The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks have set themselves up as the team to beat in the Southland Conference this season, opening up a three-game lead entering Saturday’s home matchup with New Orleans. The ’Jacks slowly built a 19-point halftime lead, then held off a Privateer comeback late in the game to post an 81-74 victory inside William R. Johnson Coliseum.

The win kept their lead in the Southland race at three full games over Nicholls (15-9, 9-4 SLC), who bumped Sam Houston State (15-9, 8-5 SLC) to four game back of the Lumberjacks with an 88-82 win in Thibodaux, La. on Saturday.

SFA has seven games left in the regular season as they race to return to the Southland Postseason Tournament in Katy for the first time since 2018. Four of those remaining games are at home.

Despite the large halftime lead, Saturday’s victory was anything but smooth. Despite all the Lumberjack starters scoring in double figures, the SFA bench was relatively quiet, only tallying 12 points. SFA seniors John Comeaux and Nate Bain, who have both struggled with injuries this season, left the game at different times in the second half. Bain was even taken to the dressing room. Both players, however, did return and were large contributors to the victory. Comeaux scored 13 points, while dishing out four assists and picking up four steals and two rebounds. Bain tallied 10 points, seven assists and four boards.

“I thought we played like Wednesday (vs. Nicholls), with an excellent first half and played as good as we can play,” said Keller later. “Comeaux goes out and we had excellent start to the second half and he made two phenomenal plays, and then he gets hurt, and Nate gets hurt and then we suck the life out of the building with our play and start turning it over. We just weren’t real sharp after that.”

Senior Kevon Harris led the way for SFA, scoring 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field and 5-of-8 from behind the three-point line. He also dished out seven assists and tallied four rebounds. Gavin Kensmil added 10 points and seven rebounds.

After hitting 54.5% (18-of-33) from the field and only committing five turnovers while building a 46-27 lead in the first half, the Lumberjacks not only cooled to 42.9% (9-of-21) in the shooting department, but turned the ball over 12 times in the final 20 minutes. That allowed the Privateers to climb back into the game, trimming a 20-point lead at the 13:49 mark of the final period to seven (60-53), with a 14-1 run over a span of 3:23.

In an effort to get his team fired back up at the end of the run, SFA head coach Kyle Keller earned a technical foul.

His Lumberjacks responded with a 14-5 run over a span of 4:45 to build the lead back to 16, 74-58, with 5:14 on the clock. The UNO deficit never got closer than nine the rest of the way.

“We got up 20 in the second half, then what is typical when you have a lot of new kids and young kids, we relaxed and got comfortable. I probably didn’t help them by getting a technical, but I was trying to get my guys fired back up.

“We just have to get through this game on Wednesday and I think we’ll see the finish line after that.”

UNO hit 46.8% (22-of-47) from the field for the game and was led in scoring by Bryson Robinson’s 26 points.

The Lumberjacks return to the road Wednesday traveling to A&M-Corpus Christi.

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